With Hurricane Irma looming, tensions are high in Palm Beach County. To help ease some of the fear and anxiety your kids may be feeling, here are 7 helpful tips from Sarah Shrier, a local licensed mental health counselor:
- REMAIN CALM. If children see the adults around them panic, they may panic too.
- Be aware that your child may be experiencing symptoms of anxiety but may not know how to describe it. Here are some signs:
- Complaints of a stomach or headache (without another medical condition that could be causing it
- Tightening feeling in their chest; butterflies in their belly; lightheaded or dizzy; sweaty hands or feet; shakiness
- Irritability (which may or may not be visible by others); disruption in sleep or eating patterns; distractibility and forgetfulness (due to their mind going “blank”)
If your child said yes to any of the above symptoms, let them know they may be feeling anxious and that this is normal. You can say something like, “It must be really scary to have these feelings and not know what they mean or how to make them go away. Many kids feel anxious; in fact, most adults feel anxiety when a hurricane is approaching.” Then focus on getting prepared together, which can help ease both of your minds.
- Explain, in an age-appropriate way, what’s going on around them. Let them know why everyone is rushing to the store to get water and supplies. Tell them what a hurricane is (in simple terms, if need be). Answer any questions in a calm voice.
- Let them help with hurricane prep in a way that works for you – like asking them to bring their toys in from outside so they’re safe.
- Warn them about what may happen so they’re not surprised if the power goes out. Give them a flashlight of their own to hold so they feel safe.
- Lastly, try to keep as much of a routine as possible. You can say, “If a hurricane does come, we’ll do the same things we always do together. We’ll play with your toys, we’ll read a bedtime story… You will be safe and I will be with you.”
By providing your children some semblance of their normal routine, whether they are hunkered down in a sheltered home, in a hotel after evacuation, or at a family member’s home in another state, those little pieces of routine help reduce your children’s anxiety in a time of uncertainly.
- During the storm, try distraction (games, puzzles, blanket forts, etc.)
For older children, you can use similar techniques. But, once again, make it age appropriate. Be honest. Answer their questions. Let them help. And remind calm.
Lastly, you can all practice deep breathing exercises together. Here’s how: Pretend to hold a flower in one hand and a candle in the other. Breathe in to “smell the flower.” Hold for three seconds. Breathe out to “blow out the candle.”
Sarah Shrier, a licensed mental health counselor, is Director of Clinical Training with Center for Child Counseling.